It has often been the case that artists have been compartmentalised into groups which is then given an elaborate name. The name is, more often or not, one which has not been made up by them but has come from an external source. We know that Monet, Renoir, Degas and Sisley, to name just a few, did not sit around a French café table and come up with the name Impressionists for their group. In fact the name Impressionists came from Louis Leroy, the art critic, journalist and some time contributor to the illustrated Parisian newspaper, Le Charivari. In 1874, he had gone along to an exhibition of works by a group of artists which was being held at the photographer Nadar’s studio in the French capital. The group of painters called themselves the Société anonyme des peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs, (The Anonymous society of painters, sculptors and engravers). One of the paintings being exhibited was Claude Monet’s 1872 work entitled Impression: Soleil levant (Impression: Sunrise). The title of Leroy’s review, in the April 27th edition of le Charivari, Exhibition of Impressionists, was taken directly from the title of Monet’s work. Leroy’s review took the form of a fictional dialogue between two people who were viewing the exhibits with a measure of cynicism and disbelief at what they saw. Commenting on Monet’s work one said:
“…Impression I was certain of it. I was just telling myself that, since I was impressed, there had to be some impression in it — and what freedom, what ease of workmanship! A preliminary drawing for a wallpaper pattern is more finished than this seascape…”
Another example of this naming of a group of artists by somebody from outside the circle was that of the Fauves The Fauves were a small group of artists who in the early 1900’s burst onto the French art scene with their wild, vibrant style that shocked their critics. The name of the group was not thought up by the artists of the group such as Matisse, Derrain or Vlaminck but the term came from the influential but acerbic French art critic, Louis Vauxcelles, who first gave the group of painters the name les Fauves (the wild beasts). The name came from a comment he made when he went to see the 1905 Salon d’Automne exhibition. Their paintings were on display in the same room as a classical sculpture by Donatello. Vauxcelles decried their offerings in comparison to the classical sculpture by saying that the sculpture was Donatello parmi les fauves (Donatello amongst wild beasts).
In my next couple of blogs I am going to look at the works of four Scottish painters who were influenced by the French Impressionists and Fauvists and who exhibited their works in the early part of the twentieth century. It was not until almost twenty years later, in 1948, that the four painters were grouped together under the name “The Scottish Colourists” by the director of the Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow, Dr. Tom Honeyman, by which time three of the four painters were dead. The four artists, often referred to by just the initials of their Christian names and their surnames, were Francis Campbell Boileau (F.C.B.) Cadell, Samuel John (S.J.) Peploe, John Duncan (J.D.) Fergusson and George Leslie (G.L.) Hunter. This group of painters took up the mantle of Scottish art previously held by the group of Scottish painters, known as the Glasgow Boys, in the last decade of the nineteenth century.
S.J. Peploe, the eldest of the four, was born in Edinburgh in 1871. He was the son of Robert Luff Peploe, an assistant secretary of the Commercial Bank of Scotland and his second wife, Anne. He was educated at the Collegiate School in Edinburgh. He was undecided as to what future path he should take and after finishing at school. At one time he thought a military career was the career he wanted. Then he considered a career in the church and ended up with a position as an apprentice in the Edinburgh legal firm of Scott & Glover. He was unhappy in that work and decided to become an artist and in 1891 enrols at the Edinburgh School of Art. Three years later Peploe heads for Paris to broaden his artistic education, where he lodges with another Scottish artist who was studying in Paris, the Aberdeen–born painter, Robert Brough who had been a fellow student with Peploe in Edinburgh. In 1894 Peploe begins his studies at L’Académie Julian under the French Academic painter, William Bouguereau and at L’Académie Colarossi. In 1895 Peploe visited Holland and is fascinated by the works of Frans Hals and brought back a number of reproductions of the Dutch artist’s works which he puts on the walls of his lodgings.
One of Peploe’s works which shows the influence of Frans Hals was a painting Peploe completed around 1904 entitled The Green Blouse. The sitter for this portrait was Jeannie Blyth, a gypsy flower seller. Peploe had used this teenager on a number of occasions. It is thought that her dark colouring and total “at ease” attitude, as a sitter, made her the perfect model.
In 1895 Peploe returns to Scotland and takes up lodgings there and acquires a studio in Edinburgh. He enrols in the Royal Scottish Academy life classes and went on to be awarded the Maclaine Watters medal for winning the RSA Art Prize. The following year he exhibits work at both the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh and the Royal Glasgow Institute of Fine Arts. Besides these two great artistic establishments there were other chances for up-and-coming new artists to exhibit their works. One such place was the private gallery of the Edinburgh fine art dealers, Aitken Dott & Son who afforded Peploe his first solo exhibition in 1903. Later, the other three Scottish Colourists would have solo exhibitions at this establishment. In the summer of 1905 Peploe and fellow Scottish Colourist, Fergusson travel to Brittany on a painting trip and carry on their artistic tour taking in the sights of Dieppe, Paris and Paris-Plage.
It was around this time that Peploe started to paint still-lifes. Peploe spent large amount time in the preparation for his still-life works even though the subject matter itself was not complicated. His brother in law Frederick Porter wrote about Peploe’s obsession with his detailed preliminaries before starting painting and his struggle for perfection. He wrote:
“… All his still lifes were carefully arranged and considered before he put them on canvas. When this was done – it often took several days to accomplish – he seemed to have absorbed everything necessary for transmitting them to canvas. The result was a canvas covered without any apparent effort. If a certain touch was wrong it was soon obliterated by the palette knife. The whole canvas had to be finished in one painting so as to preserve complete continuity. If, in his judgement, it was not right then the whole painting was scrapped and painted again…”
The Lobster was one of Peploe’s still life paintings which he completed around 1903 and in this work there is a sense of drama in the way he has contrasted the strongly coloured objects against a dark background. Look at the unusual way Peploe has included his vertical signature in the right hand side of the painting. In some ways it looks like a vertical column of Japanese script and the colour scheme used, red, yellow and black as well as the sheen of the work affords it an effect which is very like the Japanese lacquer-work. A few blogs ago, I talked about how all things Japanese had become very popular in the late nineteenth century in Europe. This “craze” known as Japonisme was also becoming popular in Britain, and due to the Japonisme works of Whistler, it was influencing many artists including painters from Scotland, such as the Glasgow Boys and the Scottish Colourists.
In 1910 Peploe married Margaret Makay and the couple moved to Paris. His son Willy was born that year. He remained in France and carries on with his painting. In June 1912 Peploe moves his family from Paris and takes up residence in Edinburgh and in 1914 his second son, Denis is born. In 1917 after a number of solo exhibitions he is elected an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy and ten years later is elected as a member of the Royal Scottish Academy. In 1928 he has an exhibition in New York at the Kraushaar Galleries. In 1933, as well as continuing with his own painting, he taught the advanced life-class students at Edinburgh College.
Samuel John (S.J.) Peploe died in October 1935, aged 64.
In my next blog I will look at the life of Francis Campbell Boileau Cadell, another of the Scottish Colourists.